Peter Rabbit & Mr McGregor’s garden pie

Peter Rabbit & Mr McGregor's garden pieHello, I’m B, aka the Other Half, the Food-hoover, Mr. Hollow-legs etc., occasionally referred to as Ben.  It’s me who gets to actually eat all the scrummy stuff featured on Souperior, and I’ll occasionally be paying for my dinner with words, like here.

I’m a little nervous about this post,  as it’s likely to rile some folk and my anti-trolling helmet is so far untested in real-world conditions, but there comes a time when a chap has to stand up for his right to eat small squeaky things.  Why on earth have we given up eating rabbits?  They’re tasty, healthy lean meat, they’re free range and abundant, in fact they’re a massive agricultural pest. From what my Grandma says, it seems the evacuee generation ate little else, yet somehow in the last half-century, town folk (i.e. most of us) have come to see them as untouchable; I blame Watership Down, nobody wants to eat something that sounds like dear old John Hurt.

One thing British rabbits definitely are not is a natural part of our landscape:  They are one of the earliest in a long line of introduced species, first brought over by the Normans around 1100AD for their fur.  At some point a pregnant doe escaped her hutch, and the rest is very familiar ecological history (though I came across one source that claims even up to the 19th century they were a rare sight inland1; looks like enclosure may have been hell for the peasants but worked a treat for bunnies).  At any rate, today they cost British agriculture well over £100 million a year2, which is getting off pretty lightly; talk to an Ozzie farmer about rabbits and watch his eye start to twitch.

Yes, there are pet breeds which are cute and cuddly, and I’d no sooner eat one of them than I would any other pet species.  But they’re a long way off the feral grey bundles of neurosis that infest hedgerows and give farmers such a hard time.  They’re nowhere near as cute as lambs after all, which we’ll be happily gorging ourselves on come spring.

Anyhoo, what brought this on was a rather good rabbit pie recipe Emma foolishly told me about:  After a week of badgering her, I was sent to the nearest game butcher for some diced rabbit.  I came back with a whole one, head, skin, guts and all, so was told to take it away and prepare it “THE WAY I ASKED FOR IN THE FIRST PLACE!” (it was the head that was the problem I think).  Of course this backfired, as I love doing anything that brings out the inner caveman.  Skinning and gutting were gleaned from Hugh F-W’s excellent The River Cottage Cookbook, and a quick Youtube search gave me a starting point for deboning – see the video here. Not a great deal harder than a chicken, and pulling the spinal column out in one go is immensely satisfying.  Plus the carcass looks like a face-hugger alien, providing hours of fun.  What you end up with doesn’t give you a lot of chunky muscle for dicing – the legs are good, and the loins are great- very similar dimensions to faux-fillet on a chicken – but there’s no real equivalent to the breast of a bird, obviously.  Nonetheless the remaining belly and rib meat may be millimetres thin but it’s tender and low on connective tissue,  so chop it up and use it – you’ll have yummy shreds as well as chunks in the pie.  Keep the carcass and head for game stock – or do what I did, boil the meat off the skull and keep it as a trophy of manliness.

And now for what to do with your pile of delicious meat, I hand you over to Emma and her recipe for the ultimate Peter Rabbit and Mr McGregor’s garden pie (so called because you braise the rabbit with all the yummy garden vegetables the eponymous rabbit was fond of stealing from the poor farmer’s garden).

Peter Rabbit & Mr McGregor's garden pie

Serves 6-8, depending on whether you serve it just with greens, or with some potatoes as well

  • 1 rabbit, skinned & boned (or about 600g diced meat)
  • A good thick slice of butter
  • 3 thick slices of streaky bacon
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 leek, sliced finely
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 heaped tablespoons wholegrain mustard
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 500ml good quality cider
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 300ml creme fraiche
  • 1 heaped tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 250g peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 x 500g packet all-butter puff pastry
  • 1 egg, beaten

Get your meat prep done first – cut up your rabbit into chunky pieces about 1″ square and the streaky bacon into thick lardons. Heat a few spoonfuls of oil (vegetable or olive) in a large heavy-bottomed pan or casserole and brown the rabbit on a high heat, until golden and crisp all over. Do this in batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan, and remove the cooked pieces to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Turn the heat down to medium, add the butter to the pan and allow to melt, scraping the pan to release any sticky meat residues. Add the diced bacon and fry for a few minutes until cooked through (not crisp!), then add all the vegetables and sweat really gently for 10 minutes or so until just soft. Add the wholegrain mustard and thyme, stir well and cook for two more minutes. Return the browned rabbit to the pan, pour in the cider and throw in the bayleaf and some salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and allow to cook gently for an hour or so until the rabbit is just tender.

After the hour simmering, remove the lid and bring the pan to a boil. Bubble on a high heat until the liquid is reduced by half, then stir in the creme fraiche, Dijon mustard and peas. Cook for two minutes more, then taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Tip into a 26cm diameter/1.6litre pie dish and allow to cool. You could make the pie filling and chill it at this stage a day or two in advance.

Preheat the oven to 200oC/400oF/Gas 6. Roll out the puff pastry to a 30cm square. Brush the rim of the pie dish with a little of the beaten egg and drape the pastry over the dish. Use a small knife to trim off the excess and use a fork to make tine marks around the rim (this also helps stick the pastry to the dish). Brush the pastry all over with beaten egg and use the scraps to make some decorations if you like. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 35 minutes and serve, either on its own or with a big pile of steamed greens and/or potatoes.


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